September 28, 2017
AMP’s Brian Salter Heads Up ACC Australia’s GC100
Brian Salter, group general counsel of Australian wealth manager AMP, is the new chair of ACC Australia's GC100. One of five co-founders of the group, Salter served as deputy chair for the first two years of the organization's existence. The GC100 is a membership organization that was established to support general counsels at companies on the ASX top 100, Australia's stock exchange, and equivalent offshore organizations; currently 70 companies are represented in the membership. This is a diverse group, Salter says, noting that there may be significant variation in the size of legal teams and the issues they have to consider between top ten organizations and those in the top 100.
"We felt that, particularly for large in-house legal teams, there was no support network or forum for general counsels to discuss best practices and share experiences," Salter says. "ACC Australia provides wonderful services for in-house counsel generally, but we felt there was a need for a more focused group. There are many contemporary issues that span industries, such as interactions with regulators, outsourcing, and the use of technology."
The group holds a half-day conference twice a year, conducting a deep dive into topics led by subject matter experts. Topics previously considered have included leadership of in-house legal teams, new models and ways of working; data protection and cybersecurity; insourcing and outsourcing; and cutting-edge contracting and currencies such as blockchain and bitcoin.
Since assuming the role of chair in May, Salter has made a couple of important changes. He has increased the size of the executive committee from five to nine, "in order to stretch across more of the membership and bring more ideas to the table."
"We are still experimenting," he says. "I would like to spend more time interacting with other general counsels, so we are looking at having much more targeted functions looking at specific subjects."
Legal technology is an area of particular interest and energy for Salter. "General counsels play a pivotal role in encouraging [new] technology, and can create economic incentives for entrepreneurs to develop new technology and ways for lawyers to deliver their services," he says. Developments that he finds especially exciting include machine learning for due diligence and compliance. He notes IBM's 2016 acquisition of Promontory, a risk management and regulatory compliance firm; Promontory's professionals will train IBM's Watson in global regulatory requirements, estimated to reach 300 million pages by 2020. Salter cites the acquisition as "a big signal" that IBM is targeting the legal sector.
Technology also is changing the role of in-house counsel and what it means to be a lawyer. Salter notes that almost every large in-house legal team has someone dedicated to technology—but he predicts much more.
"As we go forward, I think we'll be seeing this marriage of technology and law even more. I think that the next generation of lawyers will have coding experience and will be much more oriented towards the opportunities that legal technology and regulatory technology offer," he says.
Future jobs in law will differ in other crucial ways as well. Traditional law firms employed young associates to learn their craft at the hip of senior lawyers, Salter observes, while the next generation of lawyers will need skills to deliver experience, judgement and value while machines do the research and other tasks previously reserved for the inexperienced.
"There may not be fewer jobs in law, but they will be different," he says.
For those young lawyers who may aspire to be general counsels someday, Salter advises them to be aware of the expectations for leaders of large legal teams: strong legal skills, well-developed business acumen, and a sense of responsibility for the stewardship of organizations. "My recommendation would be a career path that provides exposure to the top end of the business," he says.
Salter came to AMP after 19 years as a partner in a private law firm, in what he describes as a "serendipitous" career move. One of Australia's oldest and largest commercial institutions, AMP was instrumental in bringing the country into the modern age through its investment in infrastructure. Salter leads a 100-person department that includes legal, governance, regulatory, and trustee services.
Since joining AMP, Salter says he has developed an increased appreciation for the business leadership role that general counsels have. Amid pressure to do more with less, especially as regards outside counsel spend, he constantly analyzes and assesses outsourced work. Despite forays into alternative fee arrangements, AMP still submits primarily to hourly billing, but Salter expresses a "huge variety of appetite for alternative fee models and an appetite for outside law firms to be more involved [in them]."
Salter's enthusiasm for his role and his work are infectious and with greater exposure could potentially draw many more talented lawyers into in-house practice.
"I love the law and I love my job. I invite colleagues to call me while I'm on vacation because I love my job," he says. "Had I known what private practice was like, I probably would have moved in-house earlier in my career."
He continues: "We are on the cusp of a revolution in the way legal teams operate. It's a great time to be a leader of a legal team, whether in-house or external. It's very exciting."